Nepali private sector: After the disaster

Businesses also contribute to overall recovery of the society by involvement in rebuilding activities within the communities such as shelter construction, support in education of children, supply of essentials like drinking water

Some countries are built over deserts, some amidst the oceans; ours stands on moving tectonic plates. That was not our choice, but we have to forever live with it. Earthquakes, therefore, had been considered a periodic function for us and were also predicted long before. Unfortunately, the government as well as the society in general did not prepare as much as could have been done. It was less than a surprise when the April 25 earthquake caused massive loss of lives with more than 8500 dead and thousands of others injured. The quake affected nearly one third of total population and 14 districts were declared ‘crisis hit’. Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha, Dhading, Rasuwa and Nuwakot are seriously damaged.

Impacts on the economy include damage to infrastructure such as industries, roads, hydropower, schools, health institutions, along with loss of livelihoods and jobs. The tourism and real estate sectors are affected the most. The full scale of economic impact is yet to be known. However, it is clear that in the coming few months, private businesses will start suffering from interest payments and staff payrolls, among other things, due to the sharp fall in sales. Detailed damage assessment and post disaster needs assessment has been conducted by the multi -disciplinary team of UN and Government Agencies led by the National Planning Commission in 23 different sectors including health, education, transportation, drinking water, hydropower, employment and social protection. The figure stands at over 600 billion Nepali rupees, clearly beyond the scope of the government alone.

The Nepali private sector showed a heartwarming response to the disaster, once again demonstrating that the businesses exist to serve and stand for the society in which they operate. The relation between business and other segments of society is at the best height, and the image of the private sector has improved in comparison to a few years back. Immediate response by the private sector can be broadly classified into enterprise or association managed relief efforts which are largely undocumented. The private sector coordinated relief effort such as Operation Relief amounting to at least ten million Nepali rupees and contributions to PM Relief Fund. The tentative figure in the PM relief fund is more than three hundred million from business sector alone.

The private sector’s sphere of influence during disaster response extends beyond fund raising and contribution to relief efforts such as support in rehabilitation of disaster affected communities. Rapid assessment is being conducted to get a picture of how the private sector is contributing to the relief and rehabilitation works in the post disaster scenario. However, the key strength of the private sector lies in the continued and responsible supply of goods and services and retention of jobs. This means the foremost responsibility of the private sector is to recover the business and economy from the damage and be better prepared for any future disasters. Damage to a private sector in one area has rippling effects on both private and public sectors in other areas. Therefore, the ability of the private sector to recover the loss incurred by the disaster and ensure the smooth functioning of the market is the private sector’s response during disaster management.

Natural hazards damage fundamental business components such as factory and supply chain, which have immediate impacts on local and national economy. As a service provider private sector actors can act as providers of advanced technologies for disaster risk reduction, for example by provision of safer construction materials and processes. As a lobby group, the business community also have significant stake in any National Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy. Finally, the private sector and public private partnerships play a critical role in protecting the livelihoods of vulnerable households, as providers of employment to community members. At this time of hour, the businesses need to demonstrate collective ability to prepare, respond and recover from disasters.

Businesses can reduce their vulnerability to the impacts of disasters, by conducting business continuity planning (BCP) and setting up proper business continuity management (BCM) structure. However, it is not so common for senior management of a private sector company to prepare for natural hazards as part of their business activities. Thus, encouraging senior management to do BCM can help them make effective executive decisions.

Businesses also contribute to overall recovery of the society by involvement in rebuilding activities within the communities such as shelter construction, support in education of children, supply of essentials like drinking water, etc. However, what is often forgotten is the importance of understanding the needs of each community, and to offer holistic solutions to assist each community resulting in ad hoc solutions without having a proper design. Close coordination between the business sector, communities and local government agencies is, therefore, essential. It is true that the earthquake has hit Nepal very hard and we, as a nation, were less than enough prepared for the disaster. However, we were not intimidated by the sheer magnitude of the disaster. A month later, almost all segments of lives have returned to normal. The hardest hit rural areas are also showing signs of rebuilding and recovery. The spirit of solidarity, unity among the diversity and zeal to rise back better is awesome.